This review summarizes aspects of the extensive literature on the patterns and processes underpinning chromosomal evolution in vertebrates and especially placental mammals. It highlights the growing synergy between molecular cytogenetics and comparative genomics, particularly with respect to fully or partially sequenced genomes, and provides novel insights into changes in chromosome number and structure across deep division of the vertebrate tree of life. The examination of basal numbers in the deeper branches of the vertebrate tree suggest a haploid (n) chromosome number of 10-13 in an ancestral vertebrate, with modest increases in tetrapods and amniotes most probably by chromosomal fissioning. Information drawn largely from cross-species chromosome painting in the data-dense Placentalia permits the confident reconstruction of an ancestral karyotype comprising n23 chromosomes that is similarly retained in Boreoeutheria. Using in silico genome-wide scans that include the newly released frog genome we show that of the nine ancient syntenies detected in conserved karyotypes of extant placentals (thought likely to reflect the structure of ancestral chromosomes), the human syntenic segmental associations 3p/21, 4pq/8p, 7a/16p, 14/15, 12qt/22q and 12pq/22qt predate the divergence of tetrapods. These findings underscore the enhanced quality of ancestral reconstructions based on the integrative molecular cytogenetic and comparative genomic approaches that collectively highlight a pattern of conserved syntenic associations that extends back 360 million years ago. © 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited All rights reserved.
- ancestral karyotypes
- comparative cytogenetics
- conserved syntenies
- syntenic segmental associations